As we welcomed 2020, we were forced from our home in Broulee as a raging fire approached. When we returned a few days later, we were grateful to find it was still standing.
That night, around the dinner table, my seven-year-old daughter said, “I just want it to be normal again”.
“Me too,” I replied, thinking, I’m not sure things will ever be ‘normal’ again.
Miss 7 looked pensively into the distance as food went cold on her plate. “I’m just imagining the future,” she said. “Everything is dead and brown. There is no food. There are mountains of plastic and the air is filled with pollution.”
I want to tell her it won’t happen, but I can’t. If we don’t act on climate change, this will be her future.
At 6:00 am on New Year’s Eve, we were woken by our landline ringing and mobile phones beeping. The ‘Fires Near Me’ app sent a warning and an automated messaged from the RFS played a message informing us there was a fire in the Mogo area. Mogo was still a long way from us, so we weren’t panicking. To be safe, we began to implement our bushfire plan.
Then the power and phones went out. My husband, who was on call for Moruya Hospital anaesthetics, decided to go to work as he needed to be contactable.
Outside it was heating up, a strange, hot dry wind gave me an uneasy feeling. I ran to our neighbours for support. They urged me to prepare to evacuate with them to the beach.
But moments before going the winds changed and in front of our eyes the fireball regressed. Without dependable communication lines, we decided to evacuate initially to Moruya and then to Batemans Bay – all up, we were away for six days.
Since returning home, my daughter’s words have haunted me. The future she is frightened of is already here.
Everything around us is black and smouldering. We’ve had food shortages and our water is unsafe to drink and swim in. Our air is thick with hazardous pollutants. The sand is covered in black ash and piles of burnt leaves. People have lost their homes, properties and businesses. Millions of animals have died.
I’ve been concerned about the growing impact of climate change on our health and our country. But this experience has made it so much more real and palpable. We are being impacted NOW by climate change, and it’s only going to get much worse.
I’m really concerned for the future of my children and whether Australia will even be a liveable place for them.
I’m a local GP, and since we re-opened the Monday after the fires, without power, phones or internet, I’ve seen many patients suffering the impacts of this disaster – smoke exposure, exacerbations of asthma and emphysema, acute anxiety, panic attacks, stress, grief and even suicide.
Clean air, clean water and a liveable climate underpin our very survival. These are the rights of basic health and they’re being eroded before our eyes. Climate change is not about belief, it’s about science.
Let me ask you this: imagine I told you that for the spot on your skin that we biopsied, 97 per cent of pathologists agreed it was melanoma. Would you have it removed, or would you take a 3 per cent chance and leave it?
Many politicians, including our local leaders, are telling us that right now is not the time to talk about climate change.
I cannot think of a better time.
I call on all levels of government, regardless of political alignment, to learn from this climate-fueled disaster and take immediate action. Listen to our scientific and emergency leaders. Listen to the medical community. Declare a climate emergency and get on with the job we pay you to do. It is your duty of care to the Australian public.
The immediate threat of fires has eased, so please do what you can to help our communities recover. Please give generously. But just as importantly, do what you can to help put pressure on our government. Write or email your local representatives. Join a climate activist group like Australian Parents for Climate Action. Climate change is a health emergency. Make no mistake – our health, our livelihoods, our communities and our environment are at risk.
The fires have shown us that risk will not be upon us at a future date, unknown. It is here, right now. We can change course, but we must do it now. Collectively, we can demand it. If we work together, anything is possible.
Now is not the time to be a quiet Australian.
Dr Michelle Hamrosi is a South Coast GP and lives at Broulee with her young family.